Tutorial #15: Running Comanche Gold on Windows 10


There are those indescribable moments in life when you come across a relic from the past and are instantly flooded with fond memories. This was precisely the case when I stumbled across a mention of Comanche 3 on the web, one of the earliest PC games in my life that I spent countless hours on at a friend's place (though candidly it was more of watching than playing, ala wingman to the PC occupier).

This meant I couldn't resist the temptation of digging through my treasure trove for the Comanche Gold disc. Comanche Gold is essentially Comanche 3 for Windows with few extra missions and being 32-bit meant it could be run natively on current 64-bit PCs without the need for virtualisation. The geek in me couldn't resist the challenge of getting it running once again on Windows 10 (Creators Update Build 15063.413 as of this writing) and hence this guide details out the steps to getting it done.

First things first, you need to have the following things on hand:

1. The Game Disc, of course, though I recommend creating an image of it for sheer convenience. The image can be directly mounted on Windows 10 as a DVD drive, can be archived and used on tablets that lack an optical drive.

2. Comanche Gold Patch Pack: I had come across various mentions of patches for Windows 7/8/10 but most of the links were long dead. However, the most recent mention of it can be found here. All credit is due to the original author(s) and contributor(s) of the patch. Since things tend to get lost with time, I have uploaded a copy of the patch to Google Drive.

3. DXGL: This seems to be the real differentiator in getting the game to run properly on Windows 10 with the correct video mode. As of this writing, the version used was 0.5.11.

The ideal scenario would have been that I just install the game and replace the files with the patch as depicted in the forum post from SimHQ that I have linked to previously. However, that is not how it panned out for me and I had to engage in some trial and error to get the game working. Below are the fruits of my labour laid out in sequence.

1. Install the game to a simple directory structure (eg.: C:\Games\Comanche Gold) using the 'Large Install' option. Installation to the default 'Program Files' directory resulted in the game starting in the 'Multiplayer only No-CD' mode, despite the fact that the patch contains an exe that removes the CD verification.

2. Extract the contents of the Comanche Gold Patch Pack to the root game directory, overwriting files wherever necessary.

3. Install DXGL, add the Wc3.exe file and retain all the default settings. The only change I made was to change the Video mode to 'Aspect corrected stretch' but you can easily change this to 'Stretch to screen' in case you are not a fan of letterboxing.

4. At this stage, I still couldn't get the Wc3 exe to launch as it only lead to a Windows error, none of which could be rectified using any of the compatibility options. Turns out the game needs the obscure 'DirectPlay' feature in Windows to be enabled which is a long deprecated DirectX API.

As it turned out, this was the last hoop I had to go through. Thereafter, the game launched in full screen mode and I was able to push the resolution to 1024*768, though 1280*1024 led the game to crash. Considering the age of the game, I would say it is an achievement to get it working perfectly two decades later. Love it or hate it, Windows compatibility and its legacy support is worth its weight in nostalgia, in spite of all the cruft.

(Originally published on July 4, 2017)

Update #1 (May 12, 2018): The game installs and works fine on the April 2018 Update of Windows 10 (Build 1803) with the same instructions.



Things are now much easier as even the default settings on the current version of DXGL (0.5.13) work fine and Windows automatically prompts the installation of 'DirectPlay'. I would still recommend using the 'Aspect corrected stretch' option as otherwise Windows changes the resolution rapidly and pops up a 'fix blurry text' prompt on first run.


Review #39: AmazonBasics USB 3.0 Extension Cable (1 meter, 3.3 feet)

The pursuit of (not) back breaking speed!
I can't imagine this cable being useful to anyone else other than the poor souls whose only option to experience USB 3.0 speeds is through the ports on the motherboard at the back of the desktop cabinet. I have had to call my gymnastic skills to action on a number of occasions, re-enacting Mission Impossible style laser grid scenarios to simply plugin USB 3.0 devices. External hard drive manufacturers must be in cahoots with cabinet and motherboard manufacturers by providing the shortest USB 3.0 cables possible and thereby exacerbating the situation.

In my case, I wouldn't blame the motherboard manufacturer for they have provided front USB 3.0 headers. But I can't for the life of me convince myself to buy a new "box" and hence the decade old cabinet with USB 2.0 front panel continues to thrive. I had alleviated this situation a few years ago by purchasing a USB 3.0 hub but, as if by design, it barely made it to the top of my table. Thus, it has been a constant tussle with gravity when using the hub. Moreover, the infatuation of laptop and tablet manufacturers to only include a single Type-A USB port ends up making the hub a travel companion and thus subject to frequent unplugging from the desktop. Thus, my decision to purchase the USB 3.0 cable materialised.

In the past, I have had really troublesome experiences purchasing cables online as well as offline since cables are difficult to judge by appearances alone. It is true that you can filter out the worst of them on the basis of the thickness of the cables and the moulding of the ports, but beyond that it is complete guesswork. Hence, AmazonBasics has become a go-to brand for me for cables as it offers a modicum of peace of mind in terms of quality. Going by the quality of other AmazonBasics products, I can expect it to be a barebones product that does the job. It is always true to the specifications even as durability remains a question mark over the long term. But that is true of any cable and Amazonbasics is best of the bunch in that regard. I imagine a rotten apple seeping through once in a while but in all other cases, there simply isn't anything better for the price you pay.

Review #38: AmazonBasics Micro USB cable (3 meters, 10 feet)

The long and short of it!
I will let the picture below do all the talking.

Just looking at it, you can determine that a cable this length is not practical for most purposes, especially for charging mobile phones. I can't imagine why anyone would use their mobiles with the charger 10-feet away since portable chargers are capable of doing this job just fine with much better cable management.

Thus, in my case this was a purchase of necessity. My Dell Venue 11 Pro uses a Micro-USB charger whose 24W requirement exceeds what portable chargers are capable of. The Venue 11's aging battery whose discharge time is now lesser than its charge time makes it imperative for me to be plugged in most of the time. By some evil design, all the charging sockets in my current place are placed at least 6-feet away from the couch of comfort that I ever so need while working. I had purchased an extension box to alleviate this situation but it turned out to be a tripping hazard and combined with its distaste for the US-pin Dell charger, I had to abandon it in quick time.

This 10-feet Micro USB is just what the doctor (engineer?) ordered. I can now use my Dell Venue 11 while directly plugged to the wall socket and traverse all across the couch with the cable neatly tucked around the corner. The primary concern is that the longer they are, the easier they fail. Hence, I am not too optimistic about the lifespan of this cable. But for the moment, it does as good a job of charging as a shorter cable would and eliminates another little absurdity in my life with its absurd length.

Tutorial #14: Tips on a fresh installation of Windows Creators Update


For all the cruft that had built up since the Anniversary Update, I decided to do a fresh installation of the Creators Update released earlier this month on my tablet (Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140). Re-installations are much easier now than a decade ago with cloud backups eliminating the worries of losing data. However, it still takes some effort to reduce installation time and to ensure that Microsoft's data acquisition and bloatware installation is limited. Following are my tips learnt from experience.

1. Direct ISO downloads are a thing of the past as far as Microsoft is concerned and it wants you to rely on the Media Creation Tool instead. That's fine for the most part, but it happens to download a device specific ISO. So, if you happen to have multiple Windows devices, especially with different editions of Windows 10, then it is best to download the international ISO.

2. USB installations are undoubtedly faster than disc based ones. However, SSDs are much faster than standard USB flash drives. In my case, I have converted a discarded 64GB M.2 SSD into a USB 3 flash drive which reduces the initial installation process to just 5 minutes.

3. Rufus is by far the best tool to write the ISO to the USB drive. In order to write to SSD flash drives, make sure you enable the 'List USB Hard Drives' option.

4. After installation, when you boot to the profile setup screen, I would recommend not connecting to the Internet. This causes the PC to reboot into the offline setup mode and you don't need to link your Outlook account. It is said that an offline account limits the telemetry sent to Microsoft, though I can't vouch for it personally.

5. For additional privacy, you can disable all the privacy options presented on the setup screen. If you need any of them, you can always enable them later.

6. Make sure you keep the drivers from your manufacturer handy before the installation. You can copy them to the USB drive that you use for the Windows setup. In my case, Dell provides a single CAB file containing all the drivers and I usually place the extracted CAB file on my USB SSD drive for easy access. This enables the manual installation of the correct drivers using the Device Manager.

7. A very important step is to disable installation of hardware drivers from Windows update in case you already have all the manufacturer drivers. In my case, I found that the drivers from Microsoft for my device caused a lot of issues, especially with the display and battery management. Hardware driver installation can be disabled from Advanced System Settings > Hardware > Device Installation Settings.

8. Microsoft also tends to install a lot of sponsored apps like Candy Crush Saga on the device as soon as you connect to the web. Hence, it is a great idea to open the Start Menu and remove all the icons for the apps that are awaiting download. Note that you can only do this in case you didn't connect to the Internet during the setup process.

9. Whenever you login to Microsoft Apps like Mail or OneDrive, make sure that you sign in only to the app and not associate it with the Windows account. This again ensures better privacy and account management.

This just about covers the most important things to keep in mind when undertaking a fresh installation of Windows. It maximises privacy and minimises the conflicts that you may encounter, thereby streamlining the installation process.



Musing #29: StarCraft discovered


Blizzard caught everyone by surprise earlier this week with the free (as in beer) release of the original StarCraft along with its Brood War expansion. Although it last received an update within the past decade, a 2-decade old game is always treading on the grey area of abandonware. While the intellectual property of the game continues to be of immense values as far as sequels (or prequels) are concerned, the product itself can be considered to be obsolete. 

Hence, it was a masterstroke to release the original version of the game which was certainly not out of altruism but as a promotion for the remastered edition. It is also a great move to maintain compatibility across the two releases since it ensures that there will be a substantial online community associated with the game, even if not many are paying for it.

Against this back drop, it is quite odd then that I never experienced Starcraft in any form, despite being a 90s kid. I had read about its follow-up being a staple diet of eSports events, but even then curiosity eluded me. Some of it must be due to the fact that my first PC and net connection arrived at the fag end of 90s but that doesn't explain it all. India was quite a different place 2 decades back in terms of accessibility to computing as well as the web, but I still reminisce the NFS 2/3 and FIFA 98 days with friends. Hence, it must simply be the social circle that was much more focussed on Age of Empires and Command & Conquer as far as strategy games were concerned.

However, it's better late than never as I fired up the free release of StarCraft just a couple of days back. I can't really be convinced to run it on my gaming desktop, but I found it to be an ideal fit for my Windows tablet (Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140) with its keyboard dock. In what is generally a rarity, the low powered Core M processor ends up being quite an overkill. The gameplay seems to be holding up really well and I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that the 90s were a period where the focus was much more on engagement through gameplay than graphics since processing power was quite limited. I am unsure whether the interface and controls have been tweaked since the original game, but it is surprisingly playable with the small trackpad and the 10.8" screen does more justice to this game than what a separate monitor or TV would. I guess that is precisely the reason why one might wish to go with the remastered edition, but for something that's free, this game is a real gem that beats most of the stuff that comes out on mobile these days.

Tutorial #11: Thermal control of Core M 5Y10 (Broadwell)

The first generation Core M was an engineering marvel in terms of the power it managed to fit within the 4.5W TDP envelope. In terms of performance, it sat somewhere in between the 5th generation U-series Core i3 and i5 which bear TDP of 15W but blew both of them out of the water when it came to efficiency. The fanless design not only cut down the weight of the tablet but in fact removed a significant point of failure. My gut feeling is that whirring fans are not a good fit for use cases which involve significant movement à la tablets. On the flip side, the processor package is nothing short of a toaster with its sky high temperature under sustained full load.

This led me to fire up Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) on my Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140. Normally, devices in a portable form factor like tablets and laptops leave very constrained thermal dissipation and hence are not good tuning candidates. Hence, unsurprisingly, only the voltage and turbo power controls are on offer in the case of the Core M. After trying out over two dozen profiles, I settled on the following three detailed in the table below wherein I have listed the changes made to the default (reference) settings. Profile 1 aims at a temperature of mid-60s under turbo boost which is akin to what you may find in fanned processors. Profile 2 has turbo boost set to the TDP and allows for sustained usage without thermal throttling. Profile 3 on the other hand is the default profile but with stable under-volting that reduces the temperature just enough to limit instances of thermal throttling under sustained full load.


To check the impact of these profiles, I have used the benchmark within XTU (XMarks) as well as the CPU stress test (duration of 1 min). Additionally, I have used the CPU Mark and 3D Mark tests of PassMark as they seemed to be particularly responsive to the changes. Lastly, any CPU test would be incomplete without CPU-Z and hence its bench also makes an appearance.


As can be seen from the table above, there is a compromise to be made between temperature and performance depending on what floats your boat. In my case, I decided to go with 'Profile 3' for now since sacrificing power in a mobile device is always a tough choice. Even then, it is an improvement over the default profile in terms of performance as well as temperature. Profile 2 seems like an especially good option in case thermal throttling is a major concern while Profile 1 plays it really cool if you cant't warm up to the idea of using the tablet as a finger heater. Overall, I am to this day impressed by the Core M package, enough to have it don a triple avatar.

Review #30: Dell Tablet Keyboard - Mobile for Venue 11 Pro (AliExpress)

I have been using the Dell Venue 11 Pro 7140 as a tablet for over a year and a half now and it has been a faithful companion. May be I will do a retrospective review on it sometime in the future, but for now the review is focussed on one of its accessories which I would argue is the most compelling one - the keyboard dock with a built-in battery. It completes the transformation of the tablet to a full fledged laptop, albeit one of compact proportions while giving a significant bump to the battery life.

As was the case when I purchased the tablet, I had to look overseas for the keyboard dock. I was ready to settle for a refurbished one since price as well as availability is a concern when purchasing an accessory for a device that is over 2 years old. Amazon.com had it listed at $160 (now at $110) and even then it wasn't available for shipping to India. Using third-party shipping services would have meant an expense close to at least $250, an option that wasn't worth considering. Hence, as always, it was time to take recourse to the fail-safe which more often than not happens to be AliExpress and sure enough it didn't disappoint.

While there were no "brand new" ones available, in true Chinese style, the products were listed as 99% new, 95% new, 90% new and 80% new with prices ranging from $55-70. The only way to relate this "newness" was through the pictures and since I wanted it to be as new as possible, I went with the 99% new option. Shipping of the product was not immediate and took 5 days, but thereafter the product was received within a month which is the standard time frame for delivery to India. I was a bit skeptical of using the Seller's shipping method but it turns out that the one used by the seller - Bpost International, is a dependable one.

If I were to attribute the "99% newness" to the looks alone, then I would say the description was right on the mark. There were no visible scratches on the product and it looked as good as new. The dock was immediately recognized on connection and the "Battery 2" percentage was immediately visible as being fully charged. My kitchen scale with its fairly generous margin of error puts the weight of the keyboard dock at 681g, a shade lesser than the tablet itself which weighed in at 717g. In practical terms, the keyboard dock needs to weigh as much as the tablet or else it would simply tip over. Thus, at 1.4 kg, this isn't perhaps the most lightweight laptop for its form factor, but it comes with the advantage of having dual batteries and a detachable touch screen.


My only disappointment with the purchase was that the 99% newness didn't apply to the battery within the keyboard dock. On first connection, I could see that the battery health was reported as less than 80% within the Dell Diagnostics utility and had thus already undergone a lot of discharge cycles. I have posted the current battery stats below which indicates that the full charge capacity of the battery dock compared to the design capacity is similar to the tablet battery which is over 18 months old. I guess I can't complain much in terms of the price I had paid compared to a new one but the post on AliExpress seems to be lacking in this regard.


As can be seen from the above battery stats, the dock adds about 70% of the tablet's battery capacity which translates well as far as battery life is concerned. It is difficult to pinpoint the combined battery life as it varies wildly depending on the use case scenario but the following stats should give an indication of what to expect. If watching Full HD videos encoded in H.264 is you primary use case, then you can expect the battery to last about 4 movies and a bit.


Moving on to the keyboard aspect of the dock, since the keyboard has to follow the tablet's form factor, the wide aspect ratio ensures that there is enough width available for the keys. Typing on this keyboard is a good experience and doesn't require any adjustments with respect to typing on an external keyboard. It is a bit odd to have the function keys as secondary but at the same time it is more practical as one is more likely to adjust the brightness and volume compared to the "F" keys. The wide aspect ratio on the flip side limits the height of the trackpad which is quite observable when scrolling. However, the trackpad itself is quite good and supports all the Windows 10 gestures out of the box like scrolling, zooming, app switching and minimizing to desktop. The only disappointment might be that the dock itself doesn't come with additional ports, though that would also mean losing connection to the USB devices when detached. Considering this is a tablet first, the decision seems practical enough.

On the whole, I am extremely pleased with the purchase as this "laptop" now perfectly complements my desktop, with the tablet completing a virtuous troika.